This answer makes a convincing argument that, per the actual text, the Ring was the first Horcrux that Tom Riddle created, at age fifteen, though there is perhaps some wiggle room. The accepted answer to the same question puts the Diary first, but does not provide any argument or references.

Do we know which of Voldemort's Horcruxes was intended to be the first? I'm deliberately asking about the author's intent here, rather than about what we may or may not be able to deduce from the text or based on other sources.

I'm looking for a Word of God (preferably) or other canon reference that either explicitly states which Horcrux was created first, or provides explicit dates or time periods.

  • Right? This is the same thing I've been looking into for past few hours – Nikita Neganov Dec 28 '18 at 7:30

(Note: the essence of this answer is just the first three paragraphs. Everything below the line is just to try to reconcile the answer with the answer linked in the question, so feel free to not read that part if you're short on time.)

In Chapter Twenty-Three of Half-Blood Prince Dumbledore explicitly refers to the diary as Voldemort's first Horcrux (my emphasis).

"The careless way in which Voldemort regarded this Horcrux seemed most ominous to me. It suggested that he must have made — or been planning to make — more Horcruxes, so that the loss of his first would not be so detrimental. I did not wish to believe it, but nothing else seemed to make sense.

We are not told how Dumbledore knew that the diary was the first one, and it is theoretically possible that Dumbledore was using the term "first" imprecisely, but nonetheless this is what he said.

As for the argument in the linked answer that the ring was the first Horcrux, we can simply say that (as the answer itself seems to admit) it is possible that Voldemort waited a while between retrieving the ring and making it into a Horcrux.

In fact, we could even argue that Voldemort did not know about Horcruxes at the time he stole the ring. If, as per the linked answer, Voldemort was only 15 at the time he stole it, it would have been the summer between his fourth and fifth years. In Half-Blood Prince in the memory in which Voldemort asks Slughorn about Horcruxes, Voldemort had already committed the murders and stolen the ring:

Harry recognized Voldemort at once. His was the most handsome face and he looked the most relaxed of all the boys. His right hand lay negligently upon the arm off his chair; with a jolt, Harry saw that he was wearing Marvolo's gold-and-black ring; he had already killed his father.

The question is what year did this event occur in? We can probably safely assume that it was not Voldemort's seventh year, because Slughorn refers to him as a prefect rather than as the Head Boy, which he would have been if it was his seventh year:

"You don't want to be caught out of bed out of hours, and you a prefect..."

So it must have been his fifth or sixth year. Now his fifth year was the year the Chamber of Secrets was opened. We know that until Hagrid was caught it was considered dangerous to be in the corridors at night, as Dumbledore stated in Riddle's memory in Chamber of Secrets:

"Well, hurry off to bed," said Dumbledore, giving Riddle exactly the kind of penetrating stare harry knew so well. "Best not to roam the corridors these days. Not since..."

It thus seems unlikely that Slughorn's party would have been during the time the monster was at large, as we know the party ended rather late:

Bewildered, Harry looked around as a small golden clock standing upon Slughorn's desk chimed eleven o'clock.

"Good gracious, is it that time already?" said Slughorn. "You'd better get going boys, or we'll all be in trouble.

It seems that Slughorn was only concerned about the general issue of students in the corridors at night being not allowed, and not the bigger issue of the danger of the monster on the loose. Thus, this may indicate that this party took place at a time when the Chamber of Secrets was not an issue. We know the date that Voldemort caught Hagrid, because it was mentioned in the diary:

Mouth hanging open, Harry saw that the little square for June thirteenth seemed to have turned into a minuscule television screen.

So based on this we might conclude that this party was either in Voldemort's sixth year, or at the very end (after June thirteenth) of his fifth year, or much earlier in his fifth year before the Chamber of Secrets became an issue. There is a possible indication that this party took place later in the year rather than earlier. During the party, Voldemort asked the following question:

"Sir, is it true that Professor Merrythought is retiring?" he asked.

It would seem more likely to ask this at the end of a year then at the beginning of a year. Furthermore, we actually know that Professor Merrythought was still teaching through the end of Voldemort's education. Dumbledore tells Harry later in Half-blood Prince that Voldemort asked for a teaching job after he graduated. When Harry asked which subject, Dumbledore said:

"Defense Against the Dark Arts. It was taught at the time by an old Professor by the name of Galatea Merrythought, who had been at Hogwarts for nearly fifty years.

This implies that Merrythought didn't retire until after Voldemort's seventh year (and his retirement then was perhaps what opened up the position). It would make more sense that Voldemort would mention the rumor of Merrythought's retirement in his sixth year than in his fifth year, because in his fifth year it would have been more than two years before Merrythought actually retired.

If we then assume that this party occurred during his sixth year, and towards the end of the year at that, it would mean that this was approaching two years since he had stolen the ring. If Voldemort had known about Horcruxes at the time when he sole the ring, why did it take him so long to ask Slughorn about them? It would make more sense if Voldemort had only recently found out about Horcruxes, and now he was asking Slughorn at (one of) the first opportunity(ies). Thus, even if Voldemort had the ring before the events involving the diary and the Chamber of Secrets, it is possible that he did not become aware of Horcuxes until later, and once he became aware he made the diary into the first Horcrux.

A small issue with this is that it seems that Riddle enchanted the diary at the latest in the beginning of his sixth year, based on what his memory told Harry at the end of Chamber of Secrets:

I decided to leave behind a diary preserving my sixteen-year-old self in its pages, so that one day, with luck, I would be able to lead another in my footsteps, and finish Salazar Slytherin's noble work."

This implies that he was still sixteen at the time, and as he would have turned seventeen a few months into his sixth year, this would seem to indicate that he had already enchanted the diary prior to the estimated time I gave for Slughorn's party, which would mean that he did know about Horcruxes for a while before asking Slughorn about them.

However, there are several possible ways to deal with this. We could suggest that Voldemort in fact enchanted the diary later (e.g. when he was seventeen) but preserved his "sixteen-year-old self" because that was who had opened the Chamber of Secrets. Alternatively, it is possible that there were two levels of enchantment on the diary. Perhaps at sixteen he simply implanted the memory, hoping to be able to use that to show subsequent students how to open the Chamber of Secrets. But when he later found out about Horcruxes he improved the diary by actually placing part of his soul in it, which would then give him the ability to reopen the Chamber of secrets via possessing a future student rather than relying on a memory alone. Or we could play with the dates a little and say that Voldemort found out about Horcruxes shortly before his seventeenth birthday and he created the diary Horcrux then, and it took him a little while to get the right opportunity to talk to Slughorn, such that the party could still have been well into his sixth year (e.g. he made the Horcrux in December and the party was in March).

Whichever route we choose leaves open the possibility that Voldemort had not yet known about Horcruxes when he stole the ring, which means that it is possible that he had the ring before the diary yet did not make it into a Horcrux until after the diary.

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  • "We are not told how Dumbledore knew that the diary was the first one, and it is theoretically possible that Dumbledore was using the term "first" imprecisely, but nonetheless this is what he said." Or it can be that the diary was the first horcrux Dumbledore found out about and not the first horcrux Tom made. – jo1storm Dec 28 '18 at 9:01
  • @jo1storm That falls under what I mean by “used the term ‘first’ imprecisely”. – Alex Dec 28 '18 at 9:02
  • ah,ok then. Sorry for the confusion. – jo1storm Dec 28 '18 at 9:16
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    I think I read somewhere that he used moaning myrtle's death to make the diary horcrux, after he killed her with the basilisk – marcellothearcane Dec 28 '18 at 11:44
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    This is a good answer, but I think you provide it from your subsequent reasoning rather than the first quote. I don't think Dumbledore meant to imply that the diary was the first Horcrux Voldemort made. I think he's saying something along the lines of, "The careless way in which Voldemort treated this Horcrux suggested to me that he must have been planning to make more Horcruxes, so that in the event that he lost any one Horcrux he would have others to rely on". So he means 'first' as in 'the first Horcrux which gets destroyed' rather than 'the first Horcrux which he made chronologically'. – The Dark Lord Jul 16 '19 at 16:21

@Alex's answer is great and helped me understand things better, so I'll be borrowing ideas from there.

There are hints in the books that tell us that Dumbledore assumed the diary came first.

"A bit... or more," said Dumbledore. "You heard Voldemort, what he particularly wanted from Horace was an opinion on what would happen to the wizard who created more than one Horcrux, what would happen to the wizard so determined to evade death that he would be prepared to murder many times, rip his soul repeatedly, so as to store it in many, separately concealed Horcruxes." Book 6, Chapter 23

Harry repeats this again at a later time.

"He only approached Slughorn to find out what would happen if you split your soul into seven," said Harry. "Dumbledore was sure Riddle already knew how to make a Horcrux by the time he asked Slughorn about them." Book 7, Chapter 6

Tom Riddle had created a horcrux already, just one. Now, why can we rule out the ring? Here are a few more excerpts.

"There was the much younger Slughorn, with his thick, shiny, straw-colored hair and his gingery-blond mustache, sitting again in the comfortable winged armchair in his office, his feet resting upon a velvet pouffe, a small glass of wine in one hand, the other rummaging in a box of crystallized pineapple. And there were the half dozen teenage boys sitting around Slughorn with Tom Riddle in the midst of them, Marvolo's gold-and-black ring gleaming on his finger." Book 6, Chapter 23

Dumbledore, about finding the ring:

"I stumbled across the ring hidden in the ruin of the Gaunt's house. It seems that once Voldemort had succeeded in sealing a piece of his soul inside it, he did not want to wear it anymore." Book 6, Chapter 23

So, at least according to Dumbledore, the diary came first.

(Year X refers to Riddle's Xth year at Hogwarts.)

Timeline of events:

  • In the summer of 1942, i.e., between Year 4 and Year 5, Riddle steals the ring
  • He buys the diary at a store on Vauxhall Road, London, probably during Year 5's Christmas break (end of 1942 to beginning of 1943)

Harry saw at once that it was a diary, and the faded year on the cover told him it was fifty years old. Book 2, Chapter 13

"I'm telling you, there's nothing to find in there," said Ron. "Riddle just got a diary for Christmas and couldn't be bothered filling it in." Book 2, Chapter 13

  • Sometime after June 13, 1943 of Year 5 (Myrtle's death) and before Dec 31, 1943 of Year 6 (Riddle's 17th birthday), he turns the diary into a Horcrux
  • He talks to Slughorn about Horcruxes at the very end of Year 5 (not very likely because of the Chamber of Secrets issue) or in Year 6
  • He turns the ring into a Horcrux (possibly before turning 17 [1], i.e., before 1944)

As for how Dumbledore found out that the diary is Horcrux number 1,

"I guessed. But my guesses have usually been good," said Dumbledore happily. Book 7, Chapter 35

I believe Dumbledore's speculations come the closest to JKR's view of things. Dumbledore explicitly states on multiple occasions that he relied on guesswork. I don't see why the author would repeatedly write about Dumbledore guessing things incorrectly, since it serves no purpose and contributes nothing to the story [2]. If he did guess wrong, I think it would be significant enough to receive a mention later on.

Everything beyond this point can be skipped. What follows comprises lengthy footnotes (which are not references but conjectures) and my opinion on the quote in @Alex's answer.

[1] This is pure guesswork because I'm not sure JKR had Horcruxes in mind when she wrote Book 2 but Riddle may have turned the ring into a Horcrux before turning 17, if we assume the diary Horcrux had two types of enchantment. When Riddle turned the diary into a Horcrux, he may not have enchanted it to possess people; he may have done that after talking to Slughorn. Dumbledore mentions during the Horcrux conversation with Harry that Riddle planned to use the diary as more than a Horcrux, thus being careless about something that makes him immortal.

But don't you see, Harry, that if he intended the diary to be passed to, or planted on, some future Hogwarts student, he was being remarkably blase about that precious fragment of his soul concealed within it. The point of a Horcrux is, as Professor Slughorn explained, to keep part of the self hidden and safe, not to fling it into somebody else's path and run the risk that they might destroy it - as indeed happened: That particular fragment of soul is no more; you saw to that. Book 6, Chapter 23

If he could afford to be careless about the diary, he must have intended to make more Horcruxes. But he couldn't be sure that was feasible, so he wouldn't put his only Horcrux at risk by messing with it. We know he didn't make his second Horcrux before talking to Slughorn, since he wasn't sure of the repercussions. So, at the very least, Tom didn't rig the diary right after turning it into a Horcrux. But after he turned (or planned to turn) the ring into a Horcrux, he would have been confident about tampering with the book. And we know he was 16 when he enchanted the diary to possess people (unless he was older but had to power to put his younger self's memories into the diary, which I doubt. Pretty sure JKR intended for Riddle's words to be taken at face value).

"I decided to leave behind a diary, preserving my sixteen-year-old self in its pages, so that one day, with luck, I would be able to lead another in my footsteps, and finish Salazar Slytherin's noble work." Book 2, Chapter 19

[2] There have been quite a few instances where Dumbledore had to make guesses (and they almost always turned out right - Riddle's past, Merope's actions, Harry being a Horcrux, and so on). If we questioned his words every time, Voldemort's entire history as we know it could be a lie. Granted, guesswork doesn't equate to fact but in Dumbledore's defense, he didn't come to these conclusions purely based on some fragments of memories he procured. Riddle was his student. He had seven years of exposure to Riddle's insidious nature following which he had more than fifty years to contemplate on things before the Horcrux conversation with Harry. Not to mention, Dumbledore isn't an average wizard. Maybe he noticed subtle changes in Riddle after his first horcrux creation that made more sense in retrospect when Harry handed him the destroyed diary. Maybe he understood Tom well enough to know he was too obsessed about the ring's safety to wear it once he turned it into a horcrux. One can only guess.

I believe Dumbledore's guesses were less about "How did he know that?" and more about JKR using a reliable and knowledgeable character to give us a glimpse of the truth that is otherwise inaccessible to the reader. The story is almost completely from Harry's perspective save for a few chapters. If JKR were to give us these bits of information as facts rather than guesses, she would have had to write from different perspectives. Say, she did write about the horcruxes from Voldemort's perspective. How will that information reach Harry? Voldemort won't be disclosing them for sure (and I doubt anyone can force it out of him without bringing down his reputation as a formidable villain.) What about Merope's side of the story? Even Voldemort would have some trouble piecing things together. So, basically, Dumbledore and his reliable guesses are the way to go. At least, that's the way I see it.

My interpretation of Dumbledore's words (from @Alex's answer):

The careless way in which Voldemort regarded this Horcrux [the diary] seemed most ominous to me. It suggested that he must have made - or had been planning to make - more Horcruxes, so that the loss of his first would not be so detrimental." Book 6, Chapter 23

There is some confusion about the last line. It's ambiguous what Dumbledore meant by "first" because it has multiple interpretations when read on its own. But context is important and I think Dumbledore was referring to the diary in particular, which serves as further proof that the diary came first, so here's my take on things. The point Dumbledore is trying to make is that Voldemort created multiple horcruxes because he had bigger plans for one of them; plans which might jeopardize it. Riddle had bigger plans for his diary. He had conflicted thoughts about the book because on the one hand, it was a Horcrux, meant to be kept safe. On the other, it served as proof of him being the Heir of Slytherin, meant to be read. He didn't have such ambivalent feelings about the ring, as far as we know.

So, the reason "loss" comes up in the conversation is with respect to the diary, since Dumbledore wants to convey that Riddle worried about endangering the soul in the diary and made the ring a Horcrux to strengthen his immortality. If Riddle made the Ring horcrux first, Dumbledore's words make no sense: "Riddle was worried that a single horcrux (the ring) would be problematic since any harm to it would make him mortal again, so he made another horcrux (the diary) with the intention of putting it at a greater risk." One could argue that Riddle didn't immediately plan on using the diary but we'll only be reading too much into things at that point, so I'll skip the counter-arguments. Imo, Dumbledore (and JKR) would have worded things differently, if the ring came first.

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